50 Most Innovative Companies to Watch 2021
Flash memory is an electronic memory storage device that we use in almost every computing device, like memory cards, phone storage, USB drives, SSDs, etc. The majority of storage devices today use TLC 3D NAND flash technology and is migrating to the next generation of QLC NAND due to its higher density and lower price than other NAND types. However, a serious limitation is that it has relatively low performance, especially write speed.
NEO Semiconductor is a startup company that has developed a new architecture called X-NAND, which can increase QLC NAND's random read/write speed by 3X and sequential read/write throughput by 15-30X. The X-NAND architecture can produce the high-speed, low-cost solution required by such emerging applications as AI, 5G, real-time analysis, VR/AR, and cybersecurity. We interviewed Andy Hsu, the Founder & CEO of NEO Semiconductor, to understand more about the company. Here are a few excerpts of the same:
Q. What was the motivation behind establishing NEO Semiconductor?
When I formed a team to start up NEO Semiconductor in 2012, our goal was very clear. We wanted to develop new technologies to solve the most desired challenges of the industry, such as 3D NAND flash memory's slow speed, emerging memories' high cost, and IoT technology's power consumption. Our goal was to make significant technology breakthroughs instead of prioritizing generating profit. During the past nine years, we have dedicated lots of efforts in R&D towards achieving this goal, and I am delighted that we finally achieved it with our X-NAND technology.
Q. What are your focus areas? Please share an overview.
The main focus of our company is 3D NAND Flash memory, which is one of the most important products for data storage. The global market size is about $60 billion in 2020. NAND flash memory is widely used in solid-state drives (SSD), smartphones, laptops, memory cards, cloud storage, and data centers. Today's NAND flash memory capacity has reached 1Tb per chip, and its capacity is expected to increase every year continuously.
However, NAND flash memory faces a severe challenge for the development of its next generation. The speed of the NAND flash memory becomes two to four times slower for every generation. This is against the trend of the industry's requirements, especially for the booming AI and 5G applications. These applications all require high-speed big data communication. This massive quantity of data needs to be read from and written to NAND flash memory chips for storage. Therefore, NAND flash memory's slow speed has become a bottleneck for the development of next-generation such as 6G and advanced AI applications in the future. This is the problem that our company's technology called X-NAND tries to solve.
Q. How is your innovation transforming the semiconductor and data storage technology industry?
The slow speed of NAND flash memory is a bottleneck for the data storage industry. Our innovation called X-NAND architecture can solve this bottleneck to provide ultra-high-speed for high-density storage. This innovation allows the performance upgrade for all levels of the data storage devices, including cloud computing, data centers, solid-state drives, smartphones, and embedded IoT applications. It also encourages the upgrade of the interface and communication speeds, which is limited by the speed of NAND flash memory before. We believe X-NAND will start a revolution for high-speed data storage and communication.
Q. Walk us through the technology that made NEO Semiconductor possible.
Our key technology is called X-NAND, which is currently the world's fastest NAND flash memory architecture. By using its unique design, a NAND flash memory array can be divided into 4-16 times more 'planes' than the conventional. This can increase the NAND flash memory's random read and write speed by three times, sequential write by 15 times, and sequential read speed by 30 times. This architecture is a circuit design IP, and it can be readily implemented in existing NAND flash memory products without changing any manufacturing process. It does not increase any chip cost or footprint.
Q. How have you evolved with the times to address the problems faced by modern-day businesses?
For a startup company, the biggest challenge may be resources. Fortunately, today's high-tech industry is highly diversifying and very startup-friendly. We can use a lot of outsourcing to solve the problems of resources and reduce the burden of our business. This allows us to focus on our expertise works. This is particularly important for the semiconductor industry that requires lots of investment.
Q. What does innovation mean to you? How do you wield your innovation for the betterment of your clients and the world at large?
For me, innovation means finding the path to a better future for the world. From history, we see how technology innovation shaped our today's world. As a startup company, our mission is to research and develop advanced technology to make the world a better place for everyone tomorrow.
Q. How do you plan to transform your company into a future that is unfolding before you?
After debuting X-NAND technology in Flash Memory Summit 2020 and being honored with the 'Most Innovative Flash Memory Startup' Award, our next goal is to promote the technology to top-tier NAND flash memory companies. Our goal is to implement X-NAND to all levels of data storage markets.
In addition to X-NAND, we have developed several advanced technologies in other fields. We will announce these technologies in the near future. I hope NEO Semiconductor will become an IP provider for many great technologies for our world in the future.
Q. Could you tell us about the work culture at NEO Semiconductor?
As an R&D focus company, we highly valued innovation and persistence. Most of the time, we need to spend hundreds of hours of deep research on one technical issue. The more time you spend, the more you understand the core cause of the issue and the closer you get to the solution. However, you may not always find the solution. In this situation, persistence plays an important role. We encourage our engineers not to give up and constantly look for the solution, even if we move to the next project. Eventually, you may make a breakthrough, and your hard works pay off. I am very proud of our engineer team for their spirit.
Meet the Founder
Andy Hsu is the Founder & CEO of NEO Semiconductor. He has 25 years of experience in the semiconductor industry. Before founding the company, Andy led the R&D and Engineering teams of a startup company for 16 years and developed more than 60 products in NOR flash, EEPROM, and NVSRAM. He is an inventor of 100+ granted US patents in non-volatile memory. Andy has written a thesis about Artificial Neural Networks in graduate school. He has a Master of Science degree from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Department of Electrical, Computer, and System Engineering (ECSE).